When I was working as a correspondent in London, on the turn of the centuries, I was also in charge of covering events in Scandinavia. After the tragedy with the Kursk submarine, I frequently had to visit Norway. And it was there where this educative story took place.
Having landed in Kirkness (a town on the border between Norway and Russia) we, the ENG crews of the Russian TV channels ORT, RTR and NTV, were faced with the situation when there were no cars available for rent, as all of them had been taken by tourists who had arrived to fish salmon at the peak of the fishing season. Only one car was left, which we rented. Competition or not, we all had to follow the same route (and it was not until we started shooting when friendship gave way to competition).
An important note: we all represented the two European offices of our TV channels, in London and in Berlin.
One evening, having finished the shooting, we were going back to our hotel, when a traffic policeman stopped our car. He said that the car had more passengers than it was allowed to according to the traffic regulations. He asked us to show him our driver's licenses. And then, seeing a combination of Russian names and European driver's licenses, he started an amazing conversation:
- Who are you?
- What do you mean?
- Are you holders of Russian passports or British and German driver's licenses?
- What difference does it make?
- If you insist that you are the holders of European licenses, I will fine you. Because you must know the regulations.
- What is the alternative?
- I will not fine you, as you are Russians, not from Europe, and you don't know the regulations.
It must be clear which option we chose. But this conversation was truly amazing.
Moreover, back then, the logic of the Norwegian policeman seemed quite understandable. Moreover, travelling to Nikel the first large Russian residential place on the Russian territory), we could see for ourselves how far from each other Europe and the former Soviet Union were. On the Norwegian side of the border, it was clean, tidy, and everybody was punctual. On the Russian side, there was a long queue, confusion with customs rules, problems with passports. Besides, the Russian border guards were not aware of the time difference between Russia and Norway.
I often travel between Russia and the EU, sometimes several dozen times a year. Most of the time I travel by air. So it was not until over ten years later when I found myself at the land border between Russia and Scandinavia again. To be more precise, it was the border not with Scandinavia but with Latvia. But didn't one of the Baltic States' presidents say after the breakup of the USSR that his aim was to "turn his republic into yet another boring Scandinavian country"?
I was driving my own car from Russia. I approached the border in my new Volvo. All the Latvians were driving used cars, and they were returning from Russia after shopping (for petrol and such). There was no queue on the Russian border: everything was computer-processed. However, I had to spend at least an hour at the other side of the border. In particular, it turned out that smokers (like myself) could only bring two packets of cigarettes duty-free if they wanted to cross the land border with the EU. I had a block of cigarettes with me. To pay the duty, I had to stand three (!) queues. A computer was out of order, some official was out at lunch, etc. So it was not clear which of the two countries, Russia or Latvia, looked more like a post-soviet one.
In Latvia I met with a number of other funny cases. In particular, it turned out that many waiters in Jurmala were students of the nautical school. They worked as waiters to practice their Russian with the numerous Russian tourists. It turned out that in their nautical school Russian was not taught (as "the language of the occupants"). But you cannot get a job on the Baltic sea without it. So the boys have to find a way out.
Another reason to speak Russian in Jurmala is that Russians are the major buyers of apartments and houses there. If you fulfill a number of requirements, buying a flat there can get you a residence permit in Latvia, which means you can settle all over the EU. This is the way Russians solve the problem. Their aim is not immigration (as the absolute majority prefers to live and work in their own country). Their aim is to gain the freedom of travel. The per capita GDP in Russia is comparable (or even exceeds) the indices of many EU "new recruits" (and candidate states). But the Russian passport requires a visa. Why?
Of course, one can say that it is all about politics. That Romanians, Bulgarians, Latvians, etc. live worse than Russians, but they have sworn to adhere to the European values. That is, they are trustworthy. As for Russians... With them, you never know what to expect. The life has changed, while the approaches are still as they were.
In fact, however, not many people still operate in such high categories (which are actually quite debatable). More often than not, Europe is still in thrall of the stereotype of Russia from the 1990s: the country of mafia, poverty, etc. But this is no longer the case.
Who is to blame? My answer does not embrace everything. It concerns the reports of my colleagues from European mass media. Dear friends, it's time to stop earning a living by using stereotypes. Let's talk. And let's follow the business logic. Business-people have already figured out what is what. But politicians and journalists haven't. It's time they came to their senses.
Source: European Club